Monday, November 28, 2011

Mothering my four-legged baby

This morning, as usual, I tiptoe to the kitchen, trying not to disturb my dog Annie as I take my pills and pour my orange juice. She sleeps in the laundry room, which has a doggy door to back yard. As soon as she hears me, she will stretch, jingle her tags, and come running to the sliding door in the kitchen, paws banging against the glass. The trick is to get myself organized before this happens, to grab a few minutes of peace for myself.

I open the door. She comes rushing in, gives me kisses and waits for me to serve her some Kibbles N Bits. But no. First, I escort her back outside, telling her to go potty. Obediently she squats on the grass to do No. 1, then races to the other side of the yard for No. 2. After sniffing the air and observing what’s happening beyond the fence, she sprints back to the house, where I let her in to eat.

While Annie eats, I crank up the pellet stove to warm the house. Annie joins me there, the orange light of the fire reflecting in her golden eyes. I hug and pet her and tell her once again how much I love her. After a while, she curls up on the pink blanket on the big chair by the window while I go to my office down the hall.

As I work, I’m ever alert to her actions. If she barks, I leave my desk to find out what’s wrong. If she comes wandering in, I give her a big hug and promise I’ll be free to play in a little while. If she snatches paper out of my recycle box, I’ll chase her around the house to try to get it back. Sometimes I succeed, but more often, she leaves shreds of paper all over the living room. And I smile because, compared to Annie, paper doesn’t matter.

Annie is a dog, but I raised her from 7 weeks old, when she only weighed eight pounds, the size of a healthy newborn human. Now 70 pounds and almost four years old, she’s still my baby, and most days, she’s enough.

Copyright 2011 Sue Fagalde Lick

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving with the granddogs

Well, my childless friends, how did your Thanksgiving go? The holidays can really drive home our lack of children when we’re surrounded by other people’s kids. So many of the festivities seem to be designed for children and families with children.

However, looking at it from a more positive slant, we can sleep, eat, and party in peace without worrying about caring for little ones--unless of course your little ones are animals.

For the first time in ages, I didn’t go to California this Thanksgiving. Instead, I stayed here in South Beach, sang at an early morning Mass and went to a friend’s house for dinner. This friend has three children, the oldest 31, the youngest 18, but so far, she has no grandchildren, only granddogs. And the kids brought the dogs.

What a delight. I had met “Whiskey” and “Porter” before at the dog park, but didn’t know they were related to Terry. Whiskey, a brownish terrier, and Porter a big old black lab mix his “grandpa” calls “Moron,” came charging in, giving us all kisses, patrolling under the table, and resting their heads in our laps. Whiskey looks a lot like my Annie, only smaller, and Porter looks like Chico, a dog I used to have. It was so great to hug them and play with them and talk about dogs all afternoon. For once, I did not feel left out. We all had dogs.

The food was great and I enjoyed the people, but the highlight of my afternoon was Whiskey and Porter. Then I got to go home to my own dog child. Give me a dog and it’s a happy Thanksgiving.

How about you? Were you able to be happy for what you have without mourning what you lack? Or was it a tough holiday? We’re here to listen.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What If Your Mate Says No to Kids?

Last week, I wrote about how important it is to have The Conversation with our mates about whether or not we want to have children. It can be a tough conversation to have, especially for women. Sometimes men are like fish. We don’t want to speak too loudly for fear of scaring them away. I know that’s how it was with me. I lacked the self-esteem to say I wanted children and would do whatever it took to have them. With my first husband, by the time I found out he didn’t want to have children, our marriage was already going badly. It didn’t matter what I said; it wasn’t going to happen. But what if we had had that conversation before we got married? Maybe we would have avoided a troubled marriage.

With Fred, well, I suspect he was actually worth sacrificing children for. We had such a love, the kind they make movies about. He was the best husband a woman could want. He did not want to have more children, but I think if I really insisted that I had to have kids to be happy, he would have gone along with it. I didn’t insist. I just moped. I think part of me believed I had already lost my chance with my first marriage, and I was lucky just to have another husband. Also, to be honest, I wonder if my desire was not as strong as my desire to do other things in life, but I’ll never know. We avoided the conversation.

So what does one do if one’s mate says, “Absolutely not. I refuse to have children.” A lot of people who comment here are dealing with that problem right now. Do they push to the point of destroying the relationship? Do they risk abandoning the love they have in the hope of finding someone else who will welcome children? Do they give up their dream in order to stay together? How do you make such a decision?

I wish I had all the answers to these questions. We each have to find them for ourselves through soul-searching and prayer and being alert to those moments when everything becomes very clear.

What do you think? What do you do if he/she says, “No kids. No way.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Have you had the "baby" conversation with your mate?

I didn't know my first husband didn't want children until we were well into our marriage. He seemed good with other people's children. I assumed he'd be great with our own. But I was wrong. He kept wanting to put it off until he finally admitted he didn't want kids at all. By then, our marriage was shot anyway so we didn't talk much about it. We should have talked about it before we got married, but we never did.

With my second husband, we talked around the issue of having children but never addressed it head-on. He had had a vasectomy and he told me didn't want to add any more kids to the three he already had, but did I believe him? No. Did I stand up for my right to be a mom? I did not.

All too often, we fail to have one of the most important conversations we should have with our mates. We might not agree on whether to have children, but at least we need to be honest about it. I think if I had really pushed, I might be a mother today. But I never straight out said, "I want children. This is important to me. I will be devastated if I never become a mother."

Sometimes we're afraid to push, for fear our partner will get angry and break up with us. But if you can't talk about such an important topic, how good is that relationship anyway? Now don't bring it up on the first date, but if you've been together a while, it's time to have the baby talk.

For this conversation to succeed,we have to know what we want. Is not having children a deal-breaker, or can you live with it? How strongly does your partner feel about it? Why does he think he doesn't want kids?

All too often, I see couples who find themselves in a miserable place because they didn't work this out before it was too late. I know it's hard to bring it up. But try it. Maybe you could say something like, "I always wanted to have a little girl." See what he says, then follow up. Make sure you both are clear on this all-too-important issue. Sooner or later, it will harm your relationship if you don't.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Did you ever lie about not having children?

Once upon a time, I was a regular contributor to a parenting magazine. I wrote articles about nutrition, health, summer camp, the likelihood of having twins, the cost of having a baby, and other topics. I glommed ideas off my stepson. He wouldn't eat vegetables? It became an article. He was color-blind? Another article.

When I interviewed parents and childcare experts, I did not tell them I had never had children. I let them assume that I was a mom, that Michael was my kid. At the time, I was immersed in the day-to-day challenges of life with an adolescent. I did the doctor runs, got the calls from the school, baked cookies for the Boy Scout troop. Didn't that count?

I got busted a few times when people asked about my experiences with pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care. I had no such experiences. My parenting life began when Michael was almost 12, and it was only part-time. Then I would have to confess that I didn't actually have any children of my own. But most of the time it was easier to pretend.

How about you? Have you ever lied about being a parent? Pretended your stepchild, niece or nephew or another kid was your own?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Did you expect to have children?

I'm a child of the '50s. Born in 1952,I came of age at the peak of the women's movement, devouring every issue of Ms. Magazine, proudly telling people I was a feminist. I knew I wanted to be a writer. But I also expected to be a mother. From the time I was a toddler, my parents had trained me to follow my stay-at-home mother's example. Yes, writing and music were fine, as long as they didn't interfere with a woman's primary job: taking care of her home, husband and children. We're glad you're getting good grades in school, and it's nice that you got your poem published, but can you bake a cake? Can you hem a skirt? Can you diaper a baby? TV shows and movies from the 1950s and '60s formed me in the Doris Day mold. Whatever else I might want to do, I would get married and have children.

It didn't turn out that way.

How about you? I know I'm older than many of my readers, so maybe your experiences were different. Were you raised to be a mom or was that just one of many options? I'd love to hear what you have to say on this.

Copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

Childlessness in the Bible

Life was clear-cut in Biblical times. If you didn’t have a baby, it was because you couldn’t conceive or couldn’t carry a pregnancy to term. None of the husbands said, “I don’t want to have kids.” Maybe they thought it, but they wouldn’t dare say it. Couples needed children to help with the work and to carry on the family to future generations. Some poor woman on her 15th pregnancy might have wished for a condom, but we don’t hear about that.

I recently happened upon a website that lists all the women in the Bible who suffered from infertility. It’s at It’s important to note that all of these women eventually gave birth: “And she conceived and bare a son.”

We’re got Sarah, wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac; Rebekah, wife of Isaac and mother of Jacob and Esau; Rachel, wife of Jacob, mother of Joseph and Benjamin; Manoah’s wife, the mother of Samson; Hannah, wife of Elkanah, mother of Samuel; Elizabeth, wife of Zacharias and mother of John the Baptist, and a Shunammite Woman, whose husband and son are unnamed.

We also read about St. Anne, patroness saint for childless people, who conceived the Virgin Mary in her old age. And, at another site,, we read about this prophetess who was unable to conceive for a long time, but eventually became a mother of six “through devoted prayer to God.”

I would love for the Bible to tell us about women who were never able to conceive or whose husbands refused to give them children. There must have been some, but we don’t read about them in the Bible. The choices were much clearer in those days. If you could have children, you did. If you couldn’t, you prayed for divine intervention.

The issues are much more complicated now, but I suspect prayer wouldn’t hurt. If nothing else, pray for clarity and peace. Run through the Serenity Prayer. If you’re not religious . . . well, I welcome your suggestions.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Comforting words for the childless

One of many anonymous commenters sent me this: "Hi Sue, I'm the anon from Oct. 30th same age group...I wanted to share something that may help others. Tonight I was starting to feel depressed and anxious (after hearing about a friend's children) and decided to speak with my husband about my feelings. He shared that he feels bad sometimes for us not having children or grandchildren but he chooses not to dwell on it. He doesn't want to dwell on what we don't have but what we do have. He takes a piece of paper and lists everything he can think of to be thankful for. Count your blessings. So I did the same. Then I worked out for an hour to rid myself of the negative energy. This was helpful, tonight, for me. Hoping this will help others...Thank you again for this site."

Try it. I think it does help.

I found a poem by a poet who calls herself Mareymercy that gives me great comfort and I hope it will help you, too. It's called "But Who Will Take Care of You When You're Old and Dying?" The poem offers an answer to those people who ask how you'll survive old age without kids. The last stanza is especially comforting.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mommy Training with Dolls

I once had a hundred dolls. I lined them up on my dresser and counted them. My math was probably off, but they were my children. Every year at Christmas, there seemed to be a new doll I just had to have. If Santa didn't bring her, I'd die. One year Santa brought a three-foot-tall walking doll I named Patty. My friend Sherri got one, too. We walked them down the street toward each other so they could be best friends, just like us. My dolls always had dark hair and eyes like me. Sherri's dolls were blondes.

Each new doll I received spent the first night sleeping against the pillow next to me while the others slept with the stuffed animals at the foot of the bed. It's a wonder there was any room left for me. I named the newcomer, kissed her and wrapped my body around hers to protect her from the night terrors.

The next morning, I dressed her, combed her hair and brought her to breakfast with me, setting her up against the milk bottle, pretending to feed her bits of toast and eggs. I took her to school with me, never wanting to leave her alone. I knew she was just a cloth or plastic doll, but she was a real person to me.

Back in the 1950s, the big innovation was baby dolls that drank and wet. You inserted the tip of a rubber bottle in the hole between their lips and squeezed the milk or water down their throats. Rather quickly, the liquid came out a hole on the other end. It was too messy to do in the house.

Sherri and I fed our "babies" outside in the patio. That was our house. It never seemed odd to us to be two mothers sharing the same house. Our husbands were nonexistent or off at imaginary jobs where they belonged. Like our mothers, we spent our days taking care of the house and our babies. We talked to our dolls all the time, telling them how sweet they were and how much we loved them. We taught them what we had learned about Jesus in catechism class, along with the ABCs, the times tables, and the capitals of all the states in the U.S.

Betsy Wetsy and Tiny Tears led to Chatty Cathy, who could talk when you pulled the string in her back. "I'm hungry." "I'm thirsty." "I love you," she said. Then we got Barbie and her curvaceous friends. My black-haired Barbie had a best friend named Sandy, and they hung out with Sherri's blonde Barbie and Ken. We invented boyfriends and careers for our dolls. Mine were always in show business. Sherri's Barbie was a stay-at-home mom.

We watched our children grow up in that redwood patio with the cracked concrete floor. We cooked our pretend meals in the brick fireplace that my father and grandfather had built together, and washed the dishes in the sink Dad had made from scraps of wood and old pipes.

I was a good mother to my dolls, but all too soon I faced the empty nest.

When I was around 13, growing breasts and having my first periods, my mother decided I didn't need dolls anymore. "You're getting too old," she said. "It's time to give them to Goodwill.

"No," I protested. "They're mine." My children. How could I give them up?

Mom was not one for sentiment or saving things. Most of my dolls went away. I kept only a few, the ones Mom couldn't find. My favorite, Chatty Cathy, sits on top of my bookshelf right now, looking down with a goofy smile. I change her outfits to match the seasons, choosing from a red and white trunk full of clothing. Chatty Cathy gargle-talks like an old lady who's had a stroke. One of her shoulders is cracked so her arm falls off if I'm not careful. She doesn't have any teeth. But I love her anyway.

Mom ditched my dolls as a sign it was time for me to grow up, date, get married, and have flesh-and-blood babies.

Well, I did part of that. The invisible husband became real, and every now and then I got to play mommy with my stepchildren—until their real mother showed up.

But I never had babies. A little girl with a doll is a mommy in training. I guess I was training for the wrong career.

How about you? Did you play with dolls? Did you consider yourself their mother?

Copyright 2011 Sue Fagalde Lick